The music is pounding.
I can't feel the sweat on my skin. There's no room for it, after my senses being overwhelmed by the blasting of the music and the overcrowded dance floor. I don't understand how it's physically possible to go near there without feeling like vomiting. I'm already on the verge, just sitting at the bar where I hope no one will try to make small talk with me. I'm no good with words. Or strobe lights.
Oh god, the strobe lights. I think I might have a seizure. They're so obnoxious.
I shut my eyes tight, hoping to block out the lights. It's no good. The noise is still there, and I don't think I'll ever block that out.
"Why am I here?" I murmur, pinching my leg under the table. Even so, there's no point. I can't hear myself talk, and I can barely hear myself think. I don't want to be here, of all places, on a Friday night.
I skim the crowd for my friends. Some friends they are. They dragged me to this club, and now I'm stuck here, where I can see in clear view people pressing their bodies against each other in sync with the music (if they're lucky) as if they have no shame. I can't understand why people crave this. It's too gross for me. I'd rather curl up in bed with some hot cocoa, next to some of my friends and complaining about finals. But noooo, I have to be "a normal person."
Speaking of hot cocoa, it's really cold. Too bad the bar doesn't sell anything but alcohol.
My friend comes dancing along. I can tell he thinks he looks cool. I think he looks like an absolute idiot. But he's having fun, and that's what matters. Even if it costs my own...
"Hey!" he says.
"Are you drunk?" I scoff. "I'll take you home, if-"
"NO." He shakes his head. "No, no, no. No no no no no-"
"I get it."
"NO." He lays his finger on my still-open mouth. I have a deep, profounding urge to lick it. "You need to socialize sometime."
I finally lick his finger. He draws it back with a girly squeal, which I hope wards off some hopeful women. He's having too much fun tonight. "You asked for it," I say with a shrug. "And really? I need to socialize, so you brought me to a club?"
We're both half-shouting. No one can hear, anyway. We can't even hear ourselves.
He shrugs. "Yeah, sure, why not? I mean, I've done your knitting stuff-"
"I don't knit!"
"So you can just do my stuff for a night!"
I groan. "I don't want to go home at five in the morning. I don't know about you, but I have a life to attend. I need my sleep." Which is all true, honestly. I don't understand why I have to be here, as if this is something all "normal people" do. Screw normal.
"I know," he moans. "Just this once. Jasper will kill me if he finds out that I'm not at your place, doing some girly stuff. He'd never let me go out again."
I sigh. I've heard about his motherly roommate too many times to count. Jasper didn't want partying, or staying out until midnight alone, or basically anything Nathan considered "fun." I have to admit, I do like this Jasper guy. "So you brought me along for the ride," I conclude.
"Well, technically, you are my ride." Nathan shrugs. "Hey, check out the DJ. Maybe there's a keyboard or something."
The words hit me like a ton of bricks. I turn away from him and nod. Nathan takes this as acceptance, and leaves to chat with some guys he'll declare his best friends in the whole wide world, exchange contacts with, and then wake up in the morning and wonder who the hell John is. Then declare me the greatest guy on earth while I nurse his hungover self back to sanity.
There's no reason that the DJ should have a keyboard, right? I glance over at where the DJ should be (even if the keyboard is unlikely), but the burst of light stops me. I turn back to the bartender, who looks about as amused as I am. I guess he doesn't get paid enough for his service. I certainly don't get paid enough for mine to Nathan.
Friends can't be bought with money, I remind myself jokingly. My sense of humor might be horrible, but at least I think it's moderately funny.
I know that I'm being whiny and sarcastic. I can't help it, though. I'm way out of my element here. Can strobe lights change your brain? I'll have to look that up later. I'm sure they do, to some degree.
I skim the crowd once more, suddenly curious if the DJ does, in fact, have a keyboard. He probably doesn't. Or does he? I don't know who does what in these kinds of situations. But I decide against it, reminding myself that I'm not a wannabe pianist. I'm past that.
Be realistic, I remind myself. I remind myself of it over and over again. It puts me in a sort of trance, calming me. Then, when I decide that I've calmed down enough, I skim over the crowd once more. But my eyes don't fall on one of my awful companions. They fall on her.
It's a quiet sort of confidence that she has, dancing by herself without looking up at all the people watching her (which there are). She doesn't notice. Aloof, in a way, with her red hair loose and strangely enough, donning especially small (but not flirty) denim shorts. Yet, even with her strange clothing choice, she doesn't seem out of her element. She dances like it's all her own business, like she's in her own house. And when I listen closely, I realize that she's perfectly on the music. The music seems to run through her veins when she moves, not missing a beat but instead dancing with the melody like it's her partner, rather than one of the guys in this club.
Some people really stop to watch this girl from a distant planet. If what they had done would be considered just bobbing to the music, she's full-blown dancing like she's on stage. Nothing she's doing, I assume, is 'correct' here, but it's stunning enough to pass anyway. More than just pass, it's... I don't know how to put it.
Swaying. Just swaying, that's all it is.
But no matter how many times I peel my eyes from her, they always turn to her again. Because once I've had a taste, I can't get enough. Her dancing is infectious, and I can't stop staring.
Forgive me for sounding like a creep.
Bouncing her way through the music, doing moves that only she can pull off with quiet confidence. Quiet, yet outspoken.
The music stops, and she flinches, looking like a deer caught in headlights. The sudden confidence she had is gone, and even I'm surprised by the change. Eyes still trained on the floor, she makes her way…
My mother's voice echoes in my head. "Don't take the Lord's name in vain!" she snaps. But those thoughts evaporate as she approaches.
Sheryl abandoned me in the middle of a club, where people are doing things that I can't comprehend. That's mostly why my head is turned away from all of the action.
The crowd is too dense for me to wade through. I don't want to touch anyone else, I don't want to look at anyone else, I just want to go home. Do I even care if I push a few people over to escape? Probably not, but I won't test myself. I can feel my muscles tensing, and I can hardly move my numb, cold fingers. The only thing louder than the music is the pounding in my head, either my heartbeat or the beat.
Of course Sheryl needed a companion. She dragged me all the way here using her deathly grip. Quite literally, in fact. She looks like a weak girl, but she's built up muscle from years of tennis and (believe it or not) violin playing. She keeps insisting that holding your hands in the air for so long really hurts your arms. It's too bad she can't keep the same grip on her boyfriends.
I really am an awful friend, aren't I?
Wait, aren't I? Amen't I? Am I not? What?
I try to distract myself by pulling out my phone and looking it up. My trusty friend in this situation is the search engine.
Turns out aren't I is correct in questions. Who knew? Most of the population? That's interesting. Very interesting. How very interesting, yeah.
I don't want to regret looking at the crowd, so I keep my eyes glued on my phone and start looking up other random questions I had before that I can remember. It's hard, I'll admit, between the shouting and the thumping music. But I can't resist it, so I look up anyway.
I'm getting some strange looks. It's probably because I'm wearing ripped shorts and a loose t-shirt. I've heard that there are dress codes in here, but if there were, then how did I get in?
All of a sudden, I remember that lump of money that Sheryl may or may have not slipped to the guy at the door. Oh, well. It's not like I own anything fancier, anyway. She begged me to come, fully knowing that the only stuff I have in my closet are my leotards and pointe shoes. Plus some street clothes.
The lights are nauseating. I'm not cut out for anything too flashy. Strobe lights are too flashy. Oh god, I think I'm gonna faint. And I'll do almost anything to take my mind off of my situation.
A familiar tune plays, one of my favorites. In a moment of desperation, I decide to do what I do best.
I concentrate on it. Pay attention to the music, Madame's voice echoes in my head. I push that out and start moving, unconsciously still following Madame's advice, ingrained in my memory. Still swaying, I undo the messy bun I did last-minute, the one without any bobby pins. My hair falls down easily and sways along with the rest of my head, as I push out everything in my head, until it's just me and the music.
I keep my head down. I don't want to see any more weird looks. I had it coming, but I still don't want to see them. I'm probably not dancing the way others are, but it's good enough for me. I'm a bit off to the side, so it's not like I'll bump into anyone, either. I hope.
At least the hip hop training I had during summer intensives is paying off. It's hard to shake off the habits I've built with classical training, but not reminding myself of anything helps. And then I decide to block off everything and just move however I want. The music starts pulsing in my head. I block off the noise of everyone else, mouthing the lyrics to myself. I feel my muscles start to relax. They had been begging all week for a break, and this was it. No choreographers, just me.
I'm starting to feel guilty. I'm almost enjoying this. If I told Sheryl that, she'd keep dragging me here, which I really don't want, but it's not as insufferable as I thought. Sheryl told me about a rooftop. If I'm lucky, maybe everyone else is socializing over here instead of up there. If I could hear the music from there, then maybe-
The music stops. The feeling stops.
And I realize that I'm just another idiot in a crowd, drawing more attention than necessary.
I shuffle away from the crowd, avoiding their stares.
She plops herself right down next to me without sparing a glance. She points to the bartender, her mouth still fixed in an expressionless way. "Orange juice, please," she says.
The bartender is even less amused than he was before. "No orange juice."
She flickers her eyes over the displays, and her jaw tightens. "Oh," she says, then nods. "Right."
The bartender waits for her order, but it looks like she forgot all about him already. She makes an effort to pull her shorts lower over her thighs.
She's probably embarrassed. I'm not a girl, but I wouldn't wear something like that either, even if I was. Besides, the other girls are all wearing skimpy dresses. I think. I didn't take a look, and I don't want to take a look at their overexposed bodies. There's a difference between showing some skin and hardly wearing anything. Not that she's not wearing enough. She looks-I mean-she-ah, just forget it.
Come to think of it, how did she get in here? There was a guy at the door. Heck, I had to wear this fancy, scratchy, honestly really annoying jacket to get in. She showed up in a shirt and shorts, nothing fancy.
As soon she shivers, though, I realize that she's just cold.
I start to take off my jacket automatically. Then I gape at her, realizing wearing such a scratchy, uncomfortable jacket would probably be more of a punishment than anything else.
But I pull it off anyway and hold it out for her. "You look cold," I say in a voice that I try to make cool, although I think it ends up sounding like overkill. As I hear it, I realize that I sound like I'm imitating a jock. Or imitating an imitation of a jock. Or imitating an imitation of an imi-
"Thanks," she says quietly, taking my jacket and pulling it over her shoulders.
She glances at me awkwardly, and then looks back down at the counter where her drink should be. She won't stop tapping the imaginary glass. I think that if her reflection was in her imaginary drink, she'd also notice her weak, nervous smile. The confidence from her dancing is long gone, although the mysterious aura still remains.
"So, what's your name?" I sputter. When she looks at me again, I can't resist the urge to add, "I swear I'm not a creep!"
She stares at me for a couple of seconds, unconvinced, then mouths something, but I don't think any sound comes out. But she lifts her eyebrows, with realization seeming to dawn on her, and she throws her head back and laughs. I don't know what I should do, so I laugh too. I can hear it, and I wish that I didn't. Fake laughs aren't my thing, and I'm a horrible actor. And I know that I'm not suited for clubs and socializing, but this really isn't my best conversation.
Her laughter eventually reduces to giggles. The music is still pounding in my ears, but I can hear her say "Holly."
My mouth keeps opening on its own. "Have a holly jolly Christmas." Maybe I drank too much. Highly improbable, though, considering I haven't drunk anything. Is second-hand drunkenness a thing? I've heard that second-hand highs are possible, and I think that's happened once to me, but I'm not sure. Heck, I might as well finish it, pretend it's all my plan. "It's the best time of the year."
Holly laughs again, but this time, it's so casual that I don't feel as awkward.
Let me take that back. She's collapsed on the floor, still laughing her head off and drawing just as much attention as before. I want to take my jacket back and wrap it around my head. I could really do with an invisibility cloak. I'm starting to wish they sold them. Reality crushes all my dreams.
Heh heh. It kind of does, though.
She wipes away tears, still laughing, but more quietly. "That's precisely why I was named Holly. I was born on Christmas."
Oh. "That's cool," I say. She nods and turns her head back to her lap. But I'm feeling a bit more comfortable than before.
"Let's go somewhere," Holly suggests.
Let me take that back. This is getting creepy again.
"Um," I say. "I have to stay here." Why can't I speak a line without stuttering? Why? "I have to take my friends home." I point to my friends, who are lost somewhere in the giant, presumably half-naked crowd, which I still refuse to check. "Yeah, friends. Out there. Drunk. Under the influence." Smooth.
She shakes her head. "There's a roof here, I think."
I can't believe what I'm hearing. There was a roof all this time, and I didn't know. I could have gotten fresh air instead of rotting down here.
She's right about the rooftop, though. Within a few minutes, we're resting against the railing of the rooftop, lit with a terrible lamp and just enough moonlight. It's a full moon tonight. There's no one here. I don't know why, but it's probably because all of the action is down there. The music is still thumping softly, but it's no longer an annoyance to me.
Without all of the strobe lights, I can see her face more clearly. It's a bit hard to make out, but her features are well-set. She seems to always have a smile etched on her face. Sometimes it's cocky, like back in the bar. Sometimes it's calm, or even tired. Right now, though, it's more playful.
"What's your name?" Holly asks, scattering my thoughts. I lose my balance, and suddenly I'm grateful that there's a rail.
"Cole," I say. "I'm Cole."
"Okay," she says, pausing. Holly bites her lip, deep in thought. I'd ask what for, but I don't want to disturb her too much.
Her eyes shoot up like rockets. "Cole. Just like Cole!"
I nod slowly. Maybe she just has a really short attention span?
"You know, the stuff Santa puts in stockings. The ones for the bad kids." She claps her hands, but withdraws them quickly, burying them in my jacket. "The lump of coal."
That makes much more sense, actually. I nod again.
She rests her head on her hands and looks over the railing. I do the same. We stare at the moon and the rushing cars for a long time. And the silence, for once in my life, isn't so empty.
Holly is first, yet again, to interrupt the silence. "I'm guessing your friends dragged you here, right?" She looks at me with wide eyes. I can clearly see anticipation in them, possibly for my answer. She doesn't look as perky, but rather somewhat serene. Being up here, away from the noise, probably calmed her a bit. If so, then it would have calmed the both of us.
"Yeah," I say. "How'd you know?"
She shrugs. "You don't want to be here, right? I can tell. And you said that you're driving your friends home, so that's a dead giveaway."
"Yeah. Nathan, Scott, Elliot..." I trail off. "Kind of sucks that they didn't get a taxi. I mean, it's not that expensive." I can't help blurting out, "I think they just want me to socialize more." I hope she's too drunk to remember our conversation tomorrow. She doesn't look drunk, and she didn't order any drinks, but she could've- oh, who am I kidding? I suck.
"Yeah, me too," Holly says to my surprise. She shivers a bit more and buries her face in my jacket, even though it's August. It's the end of it, so Fall is approaching, but it's still not that cold. "Sorry," she says. "I hate cold."
I try to refrain from noticing, but she's actually quite thin where her legs are visible. She's almost skin and bones. But instead of commenting on it like an idiot again, I just shrug. "Doesn't matter. Keep the jacket on."
Both of us yawn simultaneously. Holly doesn't seem to notice, and turns on her phone. I see the numbers flash on the screen: 12:30. No wonder I want to go home so badly.
"I should get going," Holly mumbles through more yawns. "I need to get my sleep. I'll just text Sheryl-"
"It's fine," I interrupt. "I get it." I give her a quick nod and a grin.
Holly cocks her head and blinks several times, like a mindless doll. Then she presses her lips together and nods, as if she just had a bright idea. "Let's exchange numbers."
I pull out my phone without objections. I shouldn't give out my number so easily, according to everything my mother said. But I don't mind, and instead I read out my number. She taps the keys on the screen and looks up with a smile.
"I'll call you tomorrow," Holly says. She turns and goes to the stairs. Turning her head back, she smiles. "Bye, Coal."
"Later, Jingle Bells," I say, holding up my hand.